As one of the most celebrated personalities of the Australian fashion scene, Carla Zampatti has ridden the turbulent waves of the industry and 50 years later is still at the top of her game. We caught up with the designer to get an insight into her inspirational career and got her to share some of her thoughts on how the industry has changed, what her biggest challenges have been along the way and what legacy she hopes to leave behind.
Congratulations on 50 amazing years in the fashion industry! In your opinion what have been the most monumental changes in the fashion industry in the last 5 decades?
The biggest change has been in women’s lifestyle which of course has a huge impact on the fashion industry. In the mid 60 women felt they could take charge of their lives get an education plan a career. The only thing stopping them was their confidence as a result of being told that women can’t do this or that.
What qualities would you attribute to being able to maintain a career in fashion for as long as you have?
The qualities to be able to maintain a career in fashion are firstly a talent for design and tenacity, not giving up when things are difficult, being stimulated and embracing change. In fashion change happens every 6 months. New ideas new product are necessary if you want to excite your clients. The other very important quality is although your last collection may have been well received don’t think you have made it. Each season you have to prove yourself. If you find this an exciting challenge fashion is for you.
What advice do you have for young designers aspiring to a career with as much longevity as yours?
Advice I give to young designers is to be close to the market and your clients. Don’t take anything for granted, treat your suppliers like customers they are crucial to your success.
What would you say is the biggest mistake people make when first entering the fashion industry?
The biggest mistake I think, is that some peak very quickly and become overconfident and over extended. Be patient, don’t get too excited. Think about how good the next collection is going to be.
When your daughter Bianca told you she was leaving the business world for a career in fashion, did you have any hesitations?
When Bianca decided to be in fashion rather than marketing or commerce I was delighted. She has wonderful taste, loves quality and I felt she had the potential of being great and she assured me she loves it.
How has technology changed the way you think about fashion?
Technology has been a great driver for change. It’s a great service for the consumer, you can buy from the whole world and one has to compete with that so you have to be really good. It’s a great marketing tool for designers. So if you know what you are doing and embrace change its good for you.
How important is social media to your brand?
Social media is a very important part of technology. It enables one to talk to your customers. For them to get to know you and your product better.
You have mentioned that in the early stages of your career department stores were reluctant to stock your designs. How do you handle setbacks in any aspect of your life?
I have experienced how negatives can turn into positives. The inability of department stores at the time to appreciate simplicity and understatement drove me to open my first retail store and now we only sell to our stores. The stores in the department stores are concession, which we manage and we pay a commission on sales. I have to compliment David Jones for creating this opportunity to allow good traders to do what they do well.
Was there ever a moment in your life where you doubted your future in fashion?
There was a moment when debt and the bank really gave me sleepless nights, but I knew I would overcome this and be able to repay my debt.
What would you say the biggest differences are between the woman you were at the beginning of you career and the woman you are now?
Today’s woman has so much more confidence. She knows she can succeed at anything that she decides to do. She is also very discerning about what clothing she buys and wear and she has so much more good design to choose from. In other words both in life and in fashion she has options and freedom and that is a wonderful state
Do you have a particular woman in mind when you are designing? Has this woman changed over time?
The woman I have in mind when I design is today’s woman. She is busy in life and work, she is understanding the economy, the issues that effect her life. There are so many aspects that she is concerned with. We have customers who are 17 buying their first formal dress and board member in their 70’s. All want to look great.
In the 80’s you had the honor of being the first woman to design a car for Ford. Do you have to change or adapt your design process for items other than clothing?
The 80 was a great decade for me. Winning The Qantas/Bulletin Businesswoman of the Year, a motor car design opportunity and my first board appointment. A very busy but exhilarating and exhausting time.
You are on the board of several companies including the Australian Multicultural Foundation and The Sydney Dance company. How do you make the decision to get involved in such organisations?
When ever I am asked would I sit on a board I consider the offer carefully. I always find it an honour but it’s also a responsibility and it’s important to be able to contribute. I have found however that understanding how different businesses work makes you grow and appreciate much more than being involved in only one business
You have said in the past that initially you wanted to work in fashion because you were able to put your favourite hobby into action every day. Do you still consider this to be the case?
When I start thinking about a new collection and I become absorbed I know I am practicing my favored hobby.
You are not only celebrating 50 years in fashion but also 100 Carla Zampatti collections. How do you ensure that each new collection has as much impact as the last?
By remembering that fashion is about change. Women want something new exciting they want to be surprised and the challenge is to make a new collection both exciting new and wearable.
In generations to come, how would you like to be remembered?
That I was part of the early days of women’s emancipation. That I was at the beginning of a handful of young designers creating Australian fashion and saw this industry grow into an export of ideas to the wider world.
Main photo of Carla Zampatti by Gavin Jowitt. http://www.gavinjowitt.com